The Regulative Principle of “Liturgical Sameness?”

Unlike the author of this article, I am not a Presbyterean, nor am I a part of the PCA, but the principles outlined here by Steve Tipton concerning the Regulative Principle of Worship, I find helpful.

Article: The Regulative Principle of “Liturgical Sameness?” by Steve Tipton (original source here)

In the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)–the denomination in which I serve as a minister of the Gospel–quite a number of ministers lament the fact that you can attend five of our churches (all within the same city) only to have five very different worship experiences. Additionally, these same ministers lament what seems to be an utter lack of any kind of corporate worship identity within the denomination as a whole. It is indisputable that there is a lack of uniformity in worship practices within the denomination. In light of that truth, the questions that we should be asking are: “Why is there such diversity regarding worship practices in the PCA?” and “Should we view this diversity as a negative thing?”

Some have suggested that the basis for such divergence in worship practices is due, at least in large part, to a lack of understanding of the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW)–a principle that is found in Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Others have suggested that it is due to the fact that the “Directory for the Worship of God” (a section of the PCA’s Book of Church Order) is mostly, non-binding upon the church. Still others have intimated that it is due to what they perceive to be a descent into the dark valley of the Judges, where everyone merely does what is right in their own eyes.

Whatever one may say, of this much we may agree: There is a lack of understanding of the RPW on the part of many who enter into this debate. The PCA’s “Directory for Worship” functions merely as an advisory document; and, apart from chapters 56-58, the Directory has no “force of law” in the PCA. Regardless of that fact, I want to make the following observations about the the greater issues that lie behind the widespread divergence in worship practices in the PCA:

First, I have observed an almost universal lack of understanding as to what the Regulative Principle of Worship actually is. Therefore, there is a lack of understanding of what the RPW is not. In the first paragraph of chapter 21 of the WCF, the Divines explain that however much worship is owed to God by mankind, He must only be worshiped according to the way he has instituted in his Word. God may not be worshipped according to “the imaginations and devices of men or the suggestions of Satan.” Worship, then, must be conformed to the instructions given in Scripture.

As we proceed through the various paragraphs in chapter 21, we discover the various activities (i.e. the “elements” of worship) that are given in the Word: Prayer, the reading of Scripture, the preaching (and conscionable hearing) of the Word, the singing of psalms, and the sacraments as ordinary parts of worship, along with oaths, vows, fasting and thanksgiving upon special occasions.

Interestingly the WCF says nothing about an order, or “liturgy,” for our worship services. It also says nothing about which instruments, if any, should be used to accompany the congregation in their singing. Therefore, it ought to strike us as awfully strange and “unconfessional” to argue that those churches that have a particular liturgy and uses traditional hymns accompanied by a piano are worshipping according to the RPW, whereas those churches that have an different liturgy and sing contemporary hymns accompanied by a guitar – even (dare I say it) an electric guitar – are not worshipping according to the RPW. To be sure, there is nothing in Scripture that gives us the positive warrant to use of a Les Paul plugged into a Marshall half stack turned up to eleven to assist the congregation in singing praise to God. But, to be fair, neither would the Apostle Paul know what a piano was if it ran him over as it rolled down the street. Yet either (at least theoretically) can be used to accompany congregational singing–provided they are circumstances of worship–since they do not run contrary to the RPW.

The RPW tells us what elements are to be present during worship, but the RPW does not tell us how those elements may be circumstantially accompanied and performed. Neither, frankly, does Scripture. There is great freedom to plan and arrange worship, then, within the framework of the RPW. To argue otherwise is to go beyond what the RPW was designed to teach. Therefore to go beyond the basic principles of the RPW is to go beyond Scripture.

Second, I wonder if any of those who refer to the “Directory for the Public Worship of God” in this debate have actually read it. This applies both to those who point to its “unconstitutional” status as well as to those who raise irate opposition when someone suggests that it should become constitutional in our denomination. It is actually quite benign. I read nothing in it by way “regulative principles” that I do not find in the WCF. What it does contain is a wealth of helpful advice-much of which is couched as pious advice-for worship. It prescribes no specific liturgy. It demands no particular forms. No doubt those who state differences with the Westminster Standards on issues related to the Sabbath would have similar concerns with Chapter 48 – yet even those who find the Standards too restrictive on issues of recreation would find much helpful advice in that particular chapter for every other aspect of Sabbath keeping.

I mention the “Directory of the Public Worship of God”, however, to remind those engaged in the worship wars that the Directory does not demand monolithic uniformity in our worship service. Neither the directory nor the confession give the kind of rule and guide that would create any kind of liturgical uniformity such that you would finally be able to attend five different PCA churches and not experience five different worship liturgies or five different expressions of congregational singing. As Derek Thomas has aptly explained in his 2010 Tabletalk article, “The Regulative Principle of Worship:”

[The RPW] “does not commit the church to a ‘cookie-cutter,’ liturgical sameness. Within an adherence to the principle there is enormous room for variation–in matters that Scripture has not specifically addressed (adiaphora). Thus, the regulative principle as such may not be invoked to determine whether contemporary or traditional songs are employed, whether three verses or three chapters of Scripture are read, whether one long prayer or several short prayers are made, or whether a single cup or individual cups with real wine or grape juice are utilized at the Lord’s Supper. To all of these issues, the principle “all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40) must be applied.”

Third, given that the PRW and the Directory do not, in themselves, provide a set liturgy for the organization of worship (and, therefore, for organizational uniformity within the denomination), upon what basis are local churches to decide how to organize their worship? Clearly, they are to be guided by the elements as they are laid out in Scripture. Clearly, the RPW provides a grid though which to understand both what elements are to be included and what potential elements are to be precluded. And, clearly, the constitutional sections of the “Directory for Public Worship” gives specific guidance to their respective elements. But what else is there to which we are to adhere?
Continue reading

God Ordains ‘Whatsoever Comes to Pass’

Do you believe that God ordains whatsoever comes to pass? In this brief clip from his teaching series Chosen By God, R.C. Sproul explains how this question distinguishes between atheists and theists.

Transcript

The third chapter the Westminster Confession begins with these words: “God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and immutably—that is without possibility of changing it—God did freely and immutably ordain whatsoever comes to pass…” semicolon.

Let me take a breath there at the point of the semicolon. “God from all eternity according to his own holy and wise counsel did freely and immutably ordained or foreordain whatsoever comes to pass…” I paused at that point in the seminary classroom, and I said to my students, “how many of you believe that statement?”

You have to understand this was a Presbyterian seminary, so these fellows were pretty well steeped in the Augustinian tradition.

And I got like a 70% vote there, that large number believed it. I said, “okay, how many of you don’t believe that statement?”

And 30 or so hands went in the air.

And I said, “fine. Now let me ask another question.” I said, “without fear of recriminations, nobody’s going to jump all over you; we just would like to know. Feel free to state your position. How many of you would call yourselves atheists?”

And nobody put their hand up, and I went into my Lieutenant Columbo routine. “There’s just one thing here I can’t understand,” I said.

And looked at those thirty who had raised their hand. I said, “do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”

I said, “I can’t figure out why those of you who raised your hand saying you did not believe this statement didn’t raise your hand when I asked if you were atheists.”

And they looked at me with a mixture of puzzlement, with the same kind of looks I’m seeing in your eyes here today.

I was saying because if you don’t believe this statement, you understand that fundamentally at the bottom line you’re an atheist. And that was about the most outrageous thing they ever heard in their lives.

I said, “well, let’s understand that this statement that I’ve just read that ‘God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass’ is not a statement that is unique to Calvinism or to Presbyterianism. It doesn’t distinguish the Reformed tradition from other traditions. It doesn’t even distinguish Christians from Jews or from Muslims. This statement here distinguishes theists from atheists. And they were still puzzled as I continued this harangue. And so don’t you see that if there’s anything that happens in this world outside the foreordination of God—that if there’s no sense in which God is ordaining whatsoever comes to pass—then at whatever point something happens outside the foreordination of God it is, therefore, happening outside of the sovereignty of God.

What is a Worldview?

by James Anderson (original source here)

Abortion. Euthanasia. Pornography. Same-sex marriage. Transgender rights. Embryonic research. Genetic enhancement. Christians surveying the cultural landscape in the West have a clear sense that things are headed in a destructive direction. While most believers can easily identify the symptoms of decline, few feel competent to diagnose and address the root causes. There are many complex factors behind these developments, but one invaluable tool for better understanding and engaging with our culture is the concept of worldview. The sociological quakes and moral fissures we observe in our day are largely due to what we might call “cultural plate tectonics”: shifts in underlying worldviews and the collisions between them.

What is a worldview? As the word itself suggests, a worldview is an overall view of the world. It’s not a physical view of the world, but rather a philosophical view, an all-encompassing perspective on everything that exists and matters to us.

A person’s worldview represents his most fundamental beliefs and assumptions about the universe he inhabits. It reflects how he would answer all the “big questions” of human existence: fundamental questions about who and what we are, where we came from, why we’re here, where (if anywhere) we’re headed, the meaning and purpose of life, the nature of the afterlife, and what counts as a good life here and now. Few people think through these issues in any depth, and fewer still have firm answers to such questions, but a person’s worldview will at least incline him toward certain kinds of answers and away from others.

Worldviews shape and inform our experiences of the world around us. Like spectacles with colored lenses, they affect what we see and how we see it. Depending on the “color” of the lenses, some things may be seen more easily, or conversely, they may be de-emphasized or distorted—indeed, some things may not be seen at all.

Worldviews also largely determine people’s opinions on matters of ethics and politics. What a person thinks about abortion, euthanasia, same-sex relationships, environmental ethics, economic policy, public education, and so on will depend on his underlying worldview more than anything else.

As such, worldviews play a central and defining role in our lives. They shape what we believe and what we’re willing to believe, how we interpret our experiences, how we behave in response to those experiences, and how we relate to others. Our thoughts and our actions are conditioned by our worldviews. Continue reading

Life As A Pastor: Responding to Anonymous

The shepherd’s staff serves the dual purpose of rescuing lost sheep when their heads get caught in the hedges and fending off vicious wolves who seek to devour. In the same way, when God raises up a pastor, it is a gift to the people of God – a man who demonstrates God’s love for His sheep and yet also a man fearless when God’s people need protection. A Pastor needs both a tender and a brave heart.

When God raises up a man with a shepherd’s heart, He takes much time to forge him to become more and more Christlike, so that he can more faithfully represent the Lord Jesus as the Chief Shepherd of the sheep. This forging process usually involves tough and difficult times – times even of deep despair, almost to breaking point. The Apostle Paul was brought there (2 Cor. 1:8-10) and God’s ministers are often brought to the same exact place, so that they learn complete dependence on God rather than any kind of man-made provision.

God makes His true pastors, men who love God and people. They portray genuine compassion and tenderness and yet are to be wholly resolute in the face of opposition: a man of tender heart and a thick skin. That is quite the contrast and quite the balance, and for sure, this balance is not always achieved. The best of men are men at best!

A pastor will face criticism often. He needs to know how to handle it. One thing is sure, if he does not, he will not be in ministry long. It is vital that He knows whom He serves and what pleases Him. A pastor knows, going into the ministry, that he cannot ever please everyone. Therefore His priority is to please the One who enlisted him, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. If He is sure he is doing his all to please Him (though he never does this perfectly), this is his rest and comfort at all times.

A dynamic pastor (younger than me) in an eastern state in the US wrote the following to me:

“I have a question for you as an experienced pastor…. how does a Godly pastor respond (or not respond) to “Anonymous” to this kind of email (see below)? These kinds of emails obviously hurt and I never know how to respond… in the past I have just ignored them and not bothered to respond, but I don’t know… am I wrong to not respond to these kinds of emails? I would greatly appreciate any guidance you can offer brother!”

Good afternoon,

I have a minor complaint after listening to one of your online sermons. You claim your sermons are expositional, but you spent most of your time speaking what seems to be a personal rant about how everyone is a horrible failure… I thought pastors were supposed to be at least a little bit loving, uplifting, and positive, wanting to help their parishioners grow… not being judgmental, condescending, or mean, laughing at people’s sin… I hope this was a one-time occurrence and I just wanted to give you some constructive criticism from my viewpoint.

Col. 3:12 “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience”

Eph. 4:31 “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice”

1. Cor. 16:14 “Let all that you do be done in love”

God bless

****

Here was my reply:

Hi Pastor ________,

Good to hear from you.

I wonder how I would respond to something like this and I think my answer would be… “I am not sure.” There’s nothing wrong with responding to an anonymous email like this, nor would it be wrong to simply ignore it.

However – if I were to respond, maybe I would write something like this: Continue reading

Calvinism and Covenant Theology

Article by Tom Hicks: The Five Points of Calvinism and Covenant Theology (original source here)

In recent years, there has been a recovery of the five points of Calvinism among many evangelicals, but there has not been a concomitant revival of the covenant theology of seventeenth century Puritanism as the rich soil in which Calvinistic soteriology grows. This post will not attempt to thoroughly defend every doctrine mentioned, but to show the connection between Calvinism and the theological covenants of covenant theology. The Synod of Dordt listed the five points of Calvinism, not in their contemporary order of “TULIP,” but in the order of “ULTIP,” which is the order I’ll be using here.

1. Unconditional Election. The eternal decree of unconditional election is the foundation of covenant theology and the doctrine of salvation. God chooses to save sinners not because of any foreseen goodness or conditions in them, but merely because of His good pleasure to redeem a people for Himself to bring Him glory. Speaking of unconditional divine election, Paul writes, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16). There are no conditions in God’s choosing individuals for salvation. God’s choice is based entirely upon His sovereign will: “He has mercy on whomever He wills and He hardens whomever He wills” (Romans 9:18).

2. Limited Atonement. Limited atonement might be better termed “particular redemption” or “definite atonement.” It means that Christ’s death is absolutely effective to save, purchasing every life blessing for His chosen people, including new birth, faith, repentance, justification, adoption, as well as an enduring holy life (Rom 8:31-39). Hebrews 9:12 tells us that Christ accomplished salvation for His people, “by means of His own blood, thus securing eternal redemption.” Notice Christ’s blood “secures” redemption. It doesn’t just make redemption possible, but actually secures redemption. His blood secures “eternal” redemption, not temporary redemption. And it secures “redemption.” That is, the blood of Christ actually redeems and doesn’t merely make a provision for redemption. Since only a limited number of people are redeemed, we must conclude that Christ died only to save His chosen people. And this is in fact what the Scriptures teach. Matthew 1:21 says, “He will save His people from their sins.” In John 10:15, Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” In John 17:9, Jesus says, “I am not praying for the world, but for those whom you have given me.” Christ’s priestly work of atonement and prayer is limited to the elect alone.

So, what does this have to do with covenant theology? Covenant theology views “limited atonement” as rooted in the eternal “covenant of redemption” between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect. In this eternal covenant (an aspect of the eternal decree), the Father appointed the Son to enter into this world, to fulfill the law of God, to die for His chosen people, and to rise from the dead. The Son agreed to accomplish the Father’s will (John 17:4). A covenant is “an agreement between two or more persons;” therefore, it is proper to view this agreement between the Father and the Son covenantally. Based on this eternal covenant, or agreement, between the Father and the Son, the Son came into the world, kept the law of God and accomplished the redemption of the elect in time (2 Timothy 1:9-10). The whole of Isaiah 53 is about Christ’s temporal obedience to this eternal covenant of redemption, and Isaiah 54:10 explicitly calls it the “covenant of peace.” Continue reading

The Killer Shoes of Peace

Text: Ephesians 6:15 – “and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.”

The heavily spiked shoes of the Roman soldier meant sure footing in any type of terrain and also could be used as something of an offensive weapon. In spiritual terms, these killer shoes are essential equipment in the armor of God, and it is vital that we put them on and keep them on. Here’s the “how to” on that.